Co. Wicklow


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 3,000 in 1803 reduced to 1,676 in 18151


19 Jan. 1801GEORGE PONSONBY695
 William Allen Proby, Lord Proby622
10 May 1806 WILLIAM TIGHE vice Ponsonby appointed to office 
13 Feb. 1816 HON. GRANVILLE LEVESON PROBY vice Hume, deceased 
19 Apr. 1816 GEORGE PONSONBY vice Tighe, deceased 
12 Aug. 1817 WILLIAM PARNELL HAYES vice Ponsonby, deceased 

Main Article

The dominant interest was that of William, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, the Whig grandee who owned about a sixth of the county and was landlord to a third, in 1795, and a half, in 1815, of the registered electorate. Despite this, as Morley Saunders put it in 1815: ‘For some years past it has been understood by the gentlemen of the county that your lordship’s wishes were confined to the return of one representative, and you were pleased to say, you would leave the return of the other to their choice’. On the other hand, it was not to be supposed that Fitzwilliam would allow the free choice he thus bestowed largely on his own tenantry to be usurped by his political opponents among the lesser interests of Wicklow, which comprised Lords Carysfort, Aldborough, Powerscourt, Meath and Wicklow.2 The ‘independent’ Member was therefore returned under Fitzwilliam’s aegis. In 1800 Nicholas Westby was Fitzwilliam’s Member and his tenants’ choice was William Hoare Hume, who had replaced his father on the latter’s death at rebel hands in 1798. Hume’s father had been the instrument in 1790 of Fitzwilliam’s triumph over Aldborough’s brother, John Stratford, and Fitzwilliam, while professing neutrality, preferred the son to Lord Proby (Carysfort’s son), Col. William Howard (Wicklow’s brother), William Whalley and Morley Saunders (Aldborough’s nephew), all of whom had aspired to the seat.3

When Nicholas Westby died, 30 Nov. 1800, Fitzwilliam decided to replace him with his wife’s cousin George Ponsonby, the leading Irish Whig, owing to ‘the expediency and necessity’ of bringing him into Westminster. He accordingly declined to support Powerscourt’s brother Capt. John Wingfield or Morley Saunders, and they declined, as did William Howard and William Westby. Two opponents emerged, John Stratford and Lord Proby, but owing to Aldborough’s death on 2 Jan. 1801, the former, having succeeded to the title, was replaced by his younger brother Benjamin O’Neale Stratford. In the event, Proby and Stratford drew lots and Proby won, whereupon Stratford nominated him, though it would appear that he did not receive wholehearted support from Stratford’s family. Stratford would perhaps have been a stronger candidate: Proby’s father was absent in Berlin and, thinking it better for Proby to wait for a general election and take on Hume, was unhappy about his candidature, which owing to his own defective registration relied to his displeasure on the Powerscourt interest. Moreover, Proby did not have the crucial support of Hume, which Stratford would have had, because of a prior engagement which prevented Fitzwilliam from forming an electoral alliance with Hume until the election was over. As it was, Hume supported Ponsonby against Proby, with the assurance of Fitzwilliam’s future support, even in preference, at the latter’s insistence, to Ponsonby, and resisted attempts by Proby to buy him. George Ponsonby alleged ‘they were so sure at the Castle of corrupting him that they offered large bets that he would vote against me’. Ponsonby, after trailing at first, succeeded in an expensive contest and assured Fitzwilliam that he was now ‘perfectly sure of both seats with proper care both now and hereafter’. Although his son muttered about the county becoming a ‘close borough’, Carysfort resolved never to clash with Fitzwilliam’s big battalions again.4

On the eve of the election of 1802, it was rumoured that Fitzwilliam would bring Henry Grattan* in for Wicklow in place of Hume, but he did not go so far. Proby wished to stand again, but found the prime minister Addington lukewarm in his support, owing to his father’s connexion with Lord Grenville, a critic of the ministry. He therefore declined. So did Benjamin O’Neale Stratford, who had also talked of standing. In case of a contest, Fitzwilliam assured Hume of £3,000 lodged in his Dublin bank for mutual support, but none materialized.5 In February 1806, when Ponsonby vacated his seat on becoming lord chancellor of Ireland, Fitzwilliam picked William Tighe, a staunch local Whig, as his successor in preference to Col. John Wingfield Stratford (formerly Wingfield), whose application to Fitzwilliam was endorsed by Charles James Fox. A preference given to Wingfield Stratford must offend Carysfort, who wished to put up Lord Proby only if Fitzwilliam approved, though Proby was then ‘very much out of health’ and Carysfort was prepared to agree to Tighe tem. Moreover, George Ponsonby disapproved of Wingfield Stratford, whose brother Powerscourt had refused to support him at the last election ‘merely because’ Fitzwilliam sponsored Ponsonby and it would be ‘giving away a seat from your own family to Lord Powerscourt’s ... for all time to come’. Ponsonby made no secret of the fact that he would have liked to see one of his nephews come in.6

At the election of 1806 Carysfort was induced by government not to persevere in his intention of putting up Lord Proby lest it irritate Fitzwilliam, and invited Fitzwilliam to support Proby in Huntingdonshire instead. Tighe, though an ailing Member, and Hume, though a financially embarrassed one who was prepared to consider vacating his seat for a place, were unopposed. Fitzwilliam was confident that even if there were a contest, and provided placeholders like Aldborough and Col. William Howard were thereby neutralized, the county was ‘as safe as Old Sarum’.7 There was no change in 1807 and although George Ponsonby, without a seat, had hopes that one of the Wicklow Members would make way for him, Fitzwilliam, who admitted that the ailing Tighe’s seat was ‘quite useless’ and Hume’s ‘almost of indifference’ to him as long as he was in financial straits, could not prompt either of them to resign.8 The fact was that he preferred the sitting Members, as he indicated to Aldborough, who in 1808 and 1811 pressed him unsuccessfully to show his recognition of Aldborough’s acquiescence in the last three elections by returning his nominee for Wicklow, or at least by furnishing him with a borough seat.9

There was no opposition in 1812, but in April 1813 Fitzwilliam’s agent warned him to expect it from Col. John Wingfield Stratford at a dissolution, without thinking much of his prospects. In 1814 Hume was in such financial straits that he was prepared to vacate his seat if provided for, but a windfall relieved him, and in February 1815, when Carysfort solicited Fitzwilliam’s support for his son Capt. Granville Proby RN, in expectation of a vacancy, Fitzwilliam replied that Hume was not retiring. Hume died on 5 Nov. 1815, whereupon there was keen competition for Fitzwilliam’s support. William Parnell of Avondale, whose father had supported Fitzwilliam’s interest, applied for it, urged on by Wicklow’s brother Col. William Howard, who was his brother-in-law. So did Morley Saunders on behalf of his son Robert, for whom his uncle Aldborough also applied, alleging government and independent support for him. George Ponsonby’s name was mentioned, but he did not apply. Fitzwilliam’s preference went to Carysfort’s son, despite Ponsonby’s and Henry Grattan’s advising him to support Parnell rather than Proby. Ponsonby wrote, 24 Nov. 1815, ‘it is a choice more likely to be injurious to your interest in the county than any you could have made’, reminding Fitzwilliam that it was Proby’s brother who had opposed Fitzwilliam in 1801 and that it might happen again. He also remarked that Fitzwilliam could only ignore accusations of monopolizing the county representation as long as he could not be vanquished. On 6 Dec. 1815 Fitzwilliam informed Carysfort that he would support Proby, but, to safeguard his interest, insisted that his own friends should sponsor Proby’s candidature and that Proby should not sport the same election colours as in 1801. George Ponsonby approved this step, suggesting that Grattan should nominate Proby. Parnell had assured Fitzwilliam that he would not be hurt by a refusal, and only Morley Saunders and Aldborough were.10

No sooner had Proby been returned unopposed than William Tighe died. Carysfort at once offered to support Fitzwilliam’s choice, which fell on George Ponsonby, who this time assented. Had he not done so, Fitzwilliam would have supported William Parnell, who had again applied to him, stating that he could rely on the backing of the ministerial interests of Wicklow and Powerscourt, which would prevent a contest. Other unsuccessful aspirants included Tighe’s son, whose claims were urged by Lord Darnley, and Grattan’s son, whose claims were urged by his mother, without his father’s knowledge. Morley Saunders also applied on behalf of his son Robert, but the Castle doubted his prospects in view of the coalition of Fitzwilliam and Carysfort. Fitzwilliam’s refusal to support Saunders again irritated his family. Col. Joseph Hardy, one of his relatives, warned Fitzwilliam that although he and Carysfort might return ‘your own butlers’ at present, they must consult the feelings of the resident gentry in future, or they would be challenged by an independent federation. Aldborough accused Fitzwilliam of turning the county into a close borough, but as he requested Fitzwilliam’s support for his own nominee in future in exchange for his support of Ponsonby at present, Fitzwilliam was able to return the accusation. Ponsonby was returned unopposed.11

On Ponsonby’s death in July 1817 Fitzwilliam did not sponsor his nephew the Hon. George Ponsonby*, as some Whig pundits expected, or Henry Grattan’s son, but the patient William Parnell, on whose behalf his brother Sir Henry canvassed Fitzwilliam on the day Ponsonby died. Carysfort concurred, and Parnell, who had the support of the three largest ministerial interest—Powerscourt’s, Wicklow’s and Kemmis’s—had no contest to fear. Robert Francis Saunders was again disappointed, and as report had it that he would have benefited from the defective state of Fitzwilliam’s registration, Parnell urged Fitzwilliam to remedy this, with a view to bringing in his grandson in due course. In 1818 Proby and Parnell, now brothers-in-law, were unopposed and Carysfort, who wished his son to be able to indicate that he was ‘joined with Parnell’, remarked to Fitzwilliam, ‘They both owe their election to you’. He added that he was sure the county would take no exception to Fitzwilliam’s ‘liberal’ conduct towards it.12

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. CJ, lviii. 1105; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F82C, Haigh to Fitzwilliam, 21 Nov. 1815.
  • 2. Wakefield, Account of Ireland, i. 283; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F82/34, Morley Saunders to Fitzwilliam, 14 Dec. 1815; cf. F30/13b, Fitzwilliam to Tighe, 3 Apr. 1797; HMC Fortescue, vi. 427.
  • 3. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/19-26.
  • 4. Ibid. F50/32-35, 38, 40, 42, 43; F89/244-6; Dublin SPO 515/85/1, Ryan to Marsden, 9 Jan. 1801; HMC Fortescue, vi. 426, 429, 430; The Times, 28, 30 Jan., 2, 3, 9 Feb. 1801.
  • 5. Dublin SPO 620/61/145, Cody to Marsden, n.d.; Wickham mss 5/10, Hardwicke to Wickham, 2 June; 1/46/13, Wickham to Addington, 30 June; Add. 35713, f. 141; 35735, f. 82; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/48-49; The Times, 14 July 1802.
  • 6. Fitzwilliam mss X515/40, 41; box 68, Ponsonby to Fitzwilliam, 5 Feb., Carysfort to same, 5 Feb. 1806; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/55, 57-59.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Grenville to Elliot, 21 Mar. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 82, 95, 110, 116; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/62-63; Fitzwilliam mss, box 69, Hume to Fitzwilliam, 4 Sept.; NLS mss 12920, Fitzwilliam to Elliot, 21 Oct. 1806.
  • 8. Grey mss, Ponsonby to Howick, 13 May; Add. 51593, Fitzwilliam to Holland, 13 Dec. [1807]; Fitzwilliam mss, box 74, Bedford to Fitzwilliam, 20 Sept. 1808.
  • 9. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/67-70.
  • 10. Ibid. F82/1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 13-16, 22-26, 28, 30, 34, 37, 66; F89/463.
  • 11. Ibid. F82/55-56, 58, 59, 61, 62, 64, 66; Fitzwilliam mss X515/14; Add. 40191, f. 187; 40202, f. 185.
  • 12. Chatsworth mss, Abercromby to Devonshire, 8 July; Brougham mss, Brougham to Lambton [23 Aug. 1817]; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/74-83; F64/134, 136.